Recovering from surgery

I’ve recovered from abdominal surgery three times. Here are some tips I have.

Going to the hospital

1. When you go to the hospital wear loose pull on pants and a shirt that opens from the front. This was actually told to me in the literature, but I figured any loose clothes would do so I wore sweat pants, a t-shirt with a built in bra and a zipper front sweat shirt to the hospital. It wasn’t until I was dressing to go home that I realized there was no way I could put that pull over t-shirt on; I wore only the pull on pants and zippered sweatshirt home. For footwear I wore some slip on shoes that kind of look like slippers, but they have an outdoor bottom.

2. Don’t bring a thing to the hospital besides clothes. I took off all jewelry, rings, watches etc. I left my purse and cell phone at home. (I only brought a photocopy of my ID and credit card (there were a couple of things I had to pay for that they couldn’t finance like the ride to the hospital from the ambulance company) to use and then had them put it through the shredder when I was done. If someone is with you, this step might not be as necessary as when you get dropped off at the front door of the surgery center and yelled “good luck” out the window.

3. If there is anything you need to pay for at the surgery center… bring a check. I had to pay for the anesthesiologist and the ambulence and the surgery suite. I gave all three my credit card information, but the anesthesiologist swore they never got it. I fought it for months, but ended up having to pay extra because I had no proof that I had pre-paid.

Health related once you’re home:

Have all of these items near your bed (or the place you’ll be living the next month). 

1. Clipboard with a grid for all of the meds to take. I got multiple meds (like three prescription plus at least one over the counter med) and they all had different times to take them. I wrote down every time I took a med so I knew I wasn’t skipping or double dosing on things. I really did lose track early on and was grateful for doing this because I really had a hard time thinking through the drug induced haze.

I attached a pen to the clipboard and a Ziploc bag for the meds. I even ended up getting one of those Command Adhesive (removable) hooks and put it next to my bed because it was awkward to try to prop it up on my night stand.

Place all of this is so it will be easy to get to and use… especially in the middle of the night. A nightlight will help as well, or some access to lighting so you make sure to take the right drugs even when it’s dark.

2. Get a business card from the doctor and put it close so you can easily call them (maybe glue it to the back of the clipboard). My doctor was very reponsive. I called on a Saturday because I was running out of meds and had forgotten to call him earlier. He called back within 30 minutes and had a prescription called into the drug store immediately.

3. Speaking of drug store, find the closest one and have their number on hand (maybe their card should be on the back of the clip board also). You might also consider finding the closest 24 hour pharmacy in your area.

4. If you’re in San Diego call a lady named Rhonda Luebs (619) 255-9298 who owns and runs “Body Work To The Point”. She was recommended to me by a friend who got a boob job. She’ll come to your house and do some light therapy and very light glandular massage that will help the pain and speed the healing. I’m glad I did. She can even come to the hospital right after surgery but she’ll plan around your schedule/situation.

5. Rhonda gave me some healing oil that has been very useful for itchy skin and to help the healing on the  incision lines.

6. Mints, gum or breath spray to deal with dry mouth (and I liked having sugarless gum because early on I didn’t feel like getting up to brush my teeth after ever meal).

7. Gauze pads and medical tape. They did give me a few, but not enough.

8. Scissors to cut the pads and tape.

9. Polysporin ointment, I think it has more anti-bacterial agents than just Neosporin but if you already have Neosporin, just use that.

10. Thermometer. At one point I thought I had a fever (which can be a sign of infection) and it was great to immediately know my temp was normal.

11. Stool softener. This is something they might not prescribe, but is a good idea because the strong pain meds can make it hard to go. The pediatrician said Miralax is great even for kids because it dissolves in water (and you really can’t taste it) and it doesn’t produce cramps at all. In the end I drank a 16oz container of carrot juice and it solved that problem.

12. Hydrocortisone cream.

13. Instant hand sanitizer.

14. Lotion.

15. Lip Balm.

16. Baby wipes or similar. You might even want to have some disinfectant spray or wipes around.

To keep your sanity and comfort

1. Entertainment. I have a pile of books and magazines that I haven’t touched, but maybe I would’ve if I didn’t have a family bothering me all the time. I found a variety of entertainment a MUST. Radio, TV, computer, magazines, books, iPod. And don’t forget that almost all TV shows can be watched online now. Just turn on the computer and Google your favorite TV show.

2. I have a cup next to my bed that has all of my little items so they don’t clutter my side table (pen, pencil, lip balm, gum, nail file, breath spray etc)

3. I have another container that has my cell phone, my house phone (with extra pre-charged batteries, fan remote, radio remote and thermometer. I have a big thermometer that you just stroke across your forehead but if I had a smaller one it would probably be in the smaller pencil cup, etc)

4. Pillows, I needed lots of pillows to prop me up in a comfortable position

5. Extra blankets and maybe even a heating pad and a fan you can reach from bed. I got alternately cold and hot and needed to be able to warm up or cool down within reach.

6. Make sure you have a good sized night stand RIGHT next to your bed. Even the 6 inches between my bed and nightstand was an issue, after a few days I ended up bringing in something that could be much closer.

7. Make sure you have a light that you can turn on without moving around too much. Even a flashlight is better than reaching over for a light over on the night stand when you’re first recovering.

8. Slippers and bathrobe right next to the bed. I got a long t-shirt and cut it down the back to substitute for one of those hospital gowns. It was long enough to be semi-modest (just below the panty-line length), but short enough to not be in the way and get all bunched up. It was nice to wear around the house that first week.

9. After a couple of weeks I wished I had a simple house dress to wear especially for abdominal surgery because the waist bands might irritate the surgery area. No matter wat, have simple items to wear that are easy to get in and out of and that are very comfortable.

10. Make sure you have a phone and computer charger (and anything else you need to charge) near your bed. You might have to get a power strip to accommodate this.

11. Get a pedicure a few days before your procedure. A haircut and manicure will be a waste of time because you’ll probably want to have your hair back and not bothering your face and everyone knows a manicure looks like crap in a few days. A pedicure lasts weeks and at least you’ll have something nice to look at when other parts of your body are still looking swollen and crappy.

12. You might consider getting a few soft hair bands to keep your hair off of your face. If you’re having any face work done you should ask the doctor about this.

13. I have a pile of washcloths that I use for everything from small spills to lap napkins. I even have small towels to cover myself when I eat so it doesn’t get all over me and I can dump the crumbs in the trash so they don’t get in the bed.

14. Oh yeah, trash. make sure the can is right next to the bed.

15. I found that having a step stool next to the bed really helped. I wished there was a handle next to the bed too.

16. Have a tray to put on the bed to put your meals on while you eat. I thought it would be really nice if I could rent one of those hospital contraptions that roll around and go over the bed. Oh well, the tray worked okay and was much cheaper

17. Notepad, I always need a note pad.

Food

1. Saltine crackers and 7-up. Some of the meds were not good on en empty stomach and they help settle a slightly upset stomach. If there is any way to get this close to the bed. do it! Who wants to get out of bed in the middle of the night searching for crackers just to take meds.

2. I got tired of saltines pretty quickly so it was nice to have a couple of other crackers I could much on with the liquids.

3. Pure carrot juice. The nurse said it helps you “go” and it really did help.

4. Healthy snacks. I craved healthy snacks. Dried fruit and nuts, string cheese, dense breads, small slices of meat.

5. I also liked bananas and peanut butter. They sell peanut butter in little single serve cups if you don’t regularly have peanut butter around the house.

6. Early on it was hard to eat solid food so I tried to get a lot of nutritious liquids. Yogurt, soup, fruit juice, smoothies. I did notice that one of the drugs said to avoid grapefruit juice at all costs (so pay attention if you love grapefruit juice). At first I couldn’t use a spoon or drink straight from a cup. Even the thick straws made me spill all over myself for the first 48 hours. I saved the thin straw from the juice box and used it for everything. I even ate the kids yogurt tubes. I’m not sure how sucking through a straw will effect face work again, ask your doctor.

7. If you don’t have someone to prepare food for you, consider a company who does local meal preparation and delivery. Here are a few in San Diego!

http://www.dinnergo.com/

http://www.bentoncooking.com/service.html

http://www.bellyfulmeals.com/whatisaPC.html

http://www.dining-details.com/

http://www.chefmarkko.com/page4.html 

Long Term

Just as a basic timeline…

The doctor told me I could start driving after the second week. I thought it was okay to do anything then… it wasn’t I shouldn’t have done anything but drive the kids to school and come straight home for the entire 6 weeks. Don’t fall into that trap… take your time.

After 6 weeks I felt like I might actually be able to go back to the office… if in fact I had an office job. I guess 6 weeks is a pretty good timeline, but I have to admit I had to drive to get anything done for at least three months. I could function, but only on a minimal level.

At the four month mark I felt fabulous, although my stomach still feels tense and the feeling is only starting to come back to the skin. There are still sections that don’t have any feeling.

At 4 1/2 months I went in to remove extra skin and some scar tissue that had formed. The surgery was only done under local anesthesia and I was in and out, but it was still really draining. Three weeks later and I’m still kind of lack-luster.